Most students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison spend the last Thursday in November with family or friends, but American holidays such as Thanksgiving can magnify cultural gaps. Traditions may seem unfamiliar to international students and talk of family gatherings may seem bittersweet to those for whom “going home” means a 16-hour flight.
For 52 years, volunteers from Madison Friends of International Students (MFIS) has worked to close these gaps by befriending and assisting international students, scholars and their families. With services such as home stays, English classes, furniture and clothing loans – crucial for those unaccustomed to icy Wisconsin winters – MFIS services help international visitors get comfortable here in Madison, however long they might stay.
“When we evaluate our services, our students indicate that their top concern when they arrive in the United States is making friends – specifically, American friends,” says Tina Hatch, student services coordinator in International Student Services (ISS) and a past president of MFIS.
Each year, MFIS matches international students with Madison-area families for Thanksgiving dinner. Many UW-Madison staffers take part, opening their homes as they have opened doors on campus. To some, extra spots at the table have become part of their own holiday tradition.